Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Benning or Gryba?

For a very large portion of the season, one of the best and most surprising stories was Matthew Benning. The first year pro player that Peter Chiarelli lured away from the Bruins (fair trade off for the second round pick we lost if you ask me) has exceeded all of my expectations. However, questions remain whether he should start Game 1 or not.

I first assumed Benning would spend time in the AHL and eventually get called up no earlier than Christmas. However, Benning only played two games with the Condors all year (picking up a goal and an assist). He effectively established himself as an NHL talent right out of the gate and as a right-shooting defenseman that was part of the solution for Edmonton’s problem on the blueline.

In 62 games this year he’s picked up a reasonably solid 3-12-15 as a rookie patrolling the blue. That’s solid work, but the impressive part to a lot of the numbers crowd was where he ranked in the fancy stats categories. By eye he was doing pretty well, by number he was also rocking. Keeping in mind that his role for the vast majority of the season was to play the third pairing, I want to recognize that these numbers reflect merely that he was crushing his assignment.

Of the seven regular Oiler defenders this is where Benning finished the season (all numbers 5v5):

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Points per 60: 0.71 P/60 – 5th (Larsson 4th with 0.73 P/60)

Corsi Percentage: 52.1% – 1st (Gryba 2nd with 51.8%)

Fenwick Percentage: 52.3% – 1st (Klefbom 2nd with 51.8%)

Shot Percentage: 51.8% – 2nd (Klefbom 1st with 52.0%)

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Scoring Chance Percentage: 53.3% – 1st (Nurse 2nd with 50.7%)

Goal Percentage: 56.8% – 2nd (Larsson 1st with 56.8%)

All told, this has been an unreal season for Benning, but his effectiveness has taken a hit as of late. Well, that is to say that after he took a hit his effectiveness has fallen. He was felled by a concussion and missed a little bit of time because of it. When he came back his play dipped. And I mean it really hit the skids.

The pairing of Nurse and Benning which had performed so well by shot metrics (amongst others) has hit the skids. Before the trade deadline and the injury to Benning they were cruising at a 54.2% Corsi For and apart from each other both players were above the 50% marker. Since the deadline and the injury that duo has dropped to 45.7% CF. Now the team as a whole has been winning games but dropping in the shot attempt share so that effect has been felt through every pairing, but that is a steep drop off.

At the same time, Nurse and Gryba – in limited time together – have played to the tune of a 51.7% shot attempt share. So the Oilers have to make a decision about whether or not AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME they are better off playing Nurse with Gryba or Nurse with Benning. For the majority of the year, I’d say it would have been an easy decision. I cannot say that for right now.

The good news for the Oilers is that Benning and Gryba are very different player types. Their strengths are very different. Benning is clearly the better puck distributor of the two players. He also skates better. However, Gryba is without question the more physical of the two and has been reliable by many of the same shot metrics that made Benning stand out. Gryba can rightly claim that his own season on the third pairing has been pretty successful.

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If the Sharks are coming into this series wounded and playing a slower game because of it, then Gryba’s weaknesses may not be exposed nearly as easily as they would if San Jose were a speedy team that forced defenders to make quick decisions. If Edmonton needs someone to break up a cycle the Gryba can be that man. It’s entirely conceivable that against these Sharks, the Oilers would be better off playing the low-event, physically durable, Gryba on the third pairing.

We’re going to find out soon enough.

  • giddy

    I’d vote Gryba for the majority of games against the Sharks. They’re far from a speedy, run and gun team, and especially with Thornton, who is already big and slow, not skating at 100% one can only assume whatever line he is on is going to be playing a gruelling, low down cycle game that a Gryba/Nurse pairing would fair much better against.

    If we were playing a more speedy, run and gun team like the Flames can be with guys like Gaudreau/Monahan, the most ideal guy would be having a Benning/Nurse bottom pairing, as one can only watch Gryba get walked so many times and like you said, it’s no question that Benning is the better skater, and in less physical games, makes far better outlet passes rather than Gryba’s bank it off the glass routine.

    • Randaman

      Based on their play lately, this pairing just doesn’t make sense. Benning will be alright in the future but the play-offs are a different animal. Gryba would be my choice.

  • TKB2677

    The one thing with Gryba is you know what you are getting. His foot speed is a concern at times so you know he might get beat from time to time. But he’s big, nasty, tough, and physical. He can kill penalties, break up the cycle and clear the net. When in a one on one battle, you know he probably won’t lose it. The big concern is his puck handling and his lack of speed can get him out of position.

    When he’s playing well, I think Benning brings you more in the skating, puck movement and puck handling. But I’d have a REAL short leash on Benning. He’s been not good for the last couple of weeks. Over the last couple of weeks, he’s look tentative and a bit timid. The last couple of weeks he’s looked lost in the defensive zone, making bad decisions and the most troubling thing is he’s losing individual battles.

    The playoffs is a war so you can’t have guys who are timid or losing puck battles all the time.

  • 916oiler

    I think Gryba tends to make bigger mistakes than Benning. However, they’re both good 3rd pairing defenders with Grybs having the obvious physical/experience advantage. I’d say go with Benning for the first game.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    I suppose we’ll see how Benning does Wednesday. Bet he’s on a very short leash and anything less than a great effort & he’ll be in the press box.

  • dolenator

    I think some rest would do Benning good but at home we should be able to choose his match ups so that would help I am sure. Hi worst games have been on the road

  • Raingump

    My opinion is that they are and have played Benning so that he can get all this experience. Going forward, after this season, I assume Gryba isn’t in their future plans. The coach talked about them learning what it takes and how hard it is down the stretch to make the playoffs. He had troubles, but like you said he is just a rookie. He will get better and learn so much from this. It’s frustrating and scary sometimes, especially the last bit with Benning. We’ll see.

  • The older I get, the better I was...

    One consideration is the impact on Nurse. While Benning has not been strong since coming back from the concussion it also looks like Nurse is wandering a bit more in the defensive zone. This may also be impacting Benning’s play as well as the overall results of the pairing.

    There is no doubt in the value of Nurse’s ability to move the puck, his physicality and speed to get back from a rush, but I would consider which of Benning or Gryba best allows Nurse to do what he does. For San Jose I would probably go with Gryba. Gregor indicates they are probably going with Benning based on today’s practice – based on the results of my previous opinions the Oilers have probably made the right choice….

  • Heavy Stick

    I’ve watched the D closely as an ex D man in CIS hockey. Benning does skate better than Gryba; the 30# makes a difference for good and bad.
    As far a first pass Gryba is better than Benning. Benning has become a rimmer. This is because he is playing scared(concussion fear).
    Yes, I’ve seen Gryba get walked a few times but no more than others.
    This Benning is a puck mover is not really accurate. He loses more battles than he wins so he more often than not doesn’t gain possession in order to move it.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Gryba period. Benning has lots to learn yet and does not need to be overwhelmed quit yet.
    there is a time and place for Matt , its just not yet. Against the Sharks we need physicality.

    Team First. GO OILERS.

  • Been there

    I play Gryba for a few reasons. Bigger and more physical and in the playoffs it gets heavier and rougher. Older/experience factor. And finally confidence wise. Even Benning knows his last few games have been sub par, and I am sure he has heard the whispers from everyone (fans) and he knows how they rode Shultz into the ground, never regaining his confidence while here. He is young yet, don’t ruin him by force feeding him until he is ready. We will need him against teams like Chicago, Nashvilleor St. Louis when the time comes. Watching and healing won’t hurt him. He is still practicing and around the team.

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    Finally in the playoffs and Oilersnation changes the format of a successful website. I don’t mind change but holy jumping you guys dropped the ball